Eli Manning had already thrown the ball 52 times, with mixed results in the NFC championship game Sunday. Now he put on his helmet and headed out for overtime against a San Francisco 49ers defense that had no intention of allowing him to do anything that would spoil their own magical ride through the playoffs.
Earlier in the season, he had proclaimed himself among the top quarterbacks in the league. If this were a script, he would have marched the New York Giants down the field for the game winning touchdown to prove himself a man of his word.
Didn't quite happen that way. There was no long drive. No quick touchdown strike.
Just the satisfaction of being in another Super Bowl, which was plenty by itself to put a wide grin on the face of a quarterback who no longer has to live in the shadow of his big brother.
"I think everyone knew we were going to get a break, get a chance to win this game," Manning said. "Something was going to happen."
Manning's last play was an anticlimatic kneel to get Lawrence Tynes into position for the field goal that won the game 20-17. But it felt nearly as good as any touchdown pass he will ever throw.
"Just a hard fought game," Manning said. "I'm excited about this win, excited to have another chance to go to the Super Bowl."
Not that any of it was on the mind of Manning and his teammates as they celebrated on a soggy field after Tynes's 31-yarder went through the uprights. They were just ready to celebrate, after yet another road win put them on the road to Indianapolis.
Manning watched it all, with a smile that never left his face. When he went back to the locker room he had another reason to smile - his brother had flown in unannounced.
"I got my own tickets. I didn't want him to have to handle tickets," Peyton Manning said. "I'm glad I was here to witness it. I look forward to watching him play in two weeks."
It wasn't like Manning didn't have a decent day. He completed 32 of 58 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns, numbers that were more than serviceable under the conditions.
But this was a defensive battle that was more about field position than quick strikes. And this was a 49er defense that clamped down in the second half to make life awfully difficult in the pocket for Manning.
And when Williams made yet another miscue in overtime, all Manning really had to do was make sure Tynes got a chance to win it.
The kind of leadership that Giants fans once questioned from the former No. 1 pick. The kind of leadership that they won't question anymore.
"He stood in there loud and proud today, even when times were tough," center David Baas said. "We had some difficulties up front protecting him with some stunts and picking up stuff. We should have done a much better job."
He won't have to declare himself among the elite of the game anymore. Other people will do that for him, after a late season run almost as improbable as the one four years ago.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or follow at http://twitter.com/timdahlberg